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Profiles of people who uplift, maintain, or change traditions within their communities.

Cruising is not a crime, it’s a cultural movement

Paloma Abarca

Imagine cruising down the streets of San Jose on a warm Friday afternoon, the rhythmic beats of classic funk or oldies filling the air. For many, like Philip Alexander Dominguez, lowriding is more than just a pastime — it's a family tradition. Passed down from generation to generation, the love for custom cars and slow, smooth cruising runs deep in the veins of families like Dominguez's.

“Man, I can go as far back as being a baby in the back of my dad's Impala, riding with him just around town” said Dominguez. “Whenever I have the chance to ride side-by-side with my mom and her 57 Chevrolet BelAir, I'll drop all my plans just so I could be beside her on the Boulevard–this is easily the best way that my family bonds.”

Lowriding has deep roots in Chicano and Chicana history and symbolism, which has not only provided a means of expression but has also served as a tight-knit community for marginalized groups. Since the implementation of bans on cruising circa the 1950s in California, communities of color have faced discrimination and harassment from law enforcement.

Critics labeled the city's decades-old cruising ban as racist, alleging it unfairly empowers officers to target people of color based on their cultural practices.

Paloma Abarca

These cars soon became symbols of pride and a means of expression for young Chicanos, Chicanas and like-minded individuals in a society that targeted and projected them as outcast.

In 1986, San Jose implemented its own ban, making it “unlawful to operate a passenger vehicle, or commercial vehicle under 6,000 pounds, that has been modified from its original design so that any portion of the vehicle, other than the wheels, has less clearance from the surface of a level roadway than the clearance between the roadway and the lowermost portion of any rim,” according to LegiScan, an online legislative tracking service.

“I remember back in the 90s, when I used to go cruising [around San Jose], the police would pull you over for just any reason,” said Tiana Dominguez, mother for Phillip Alexander Domnqiuez. “Even though you're not doing anything wrong.“

However, through grassroots activism and political advocacy, the tide began to turn. San Jose lifted its local ban on September of 2022 and and in October of 2023, the passing of Bill AB436, which was introduced by David Alvarez and Luz Rivas, marked a significant victory, not only legalizing lowrider cruising across Califronia, but also acknowledging the cultural significance of this art form.

“When I got my first job, back in the 90s, you know, I said all of my paychecks [would] go to cars,” Tiana mentioned. “It's an evolution of the lowrider.”

The lifting of California’s ban on lowrider cruising is not just a legal victory; it's a testament to the strength and resilience of a community united by a shared passion. As lowriders reclaim their rightful place on the streets, they remind us that cultural heritage is worth fighting for and that cruising is not a crime—it's a celebration of identity, community, and the freedom to ride throughout streets full of culture.

This story aired in the February 22, 2024 episode of Crosscurrents.

Crosscurrents Crosscurrents